Weekly Notes: Hearing on sex abuse, new name in the OJJDP mix, and more

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Note: This piece has been edited since its original publishing date of Friday, Feb. 26

Youth Today just finished its March issue, which should be in the mail and online shortly. Check the front page story on state juvenile justice directors for some interesting tidbits on the hires made for those positions since 2007.

***The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing this week about sexual assaults on youth in adult and juvenile facilities. Check here for video of the hearing and copies of each witnesses testimony.

The hearing was hooked around the recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of youth in juvenile facilities concerning sexual activity among youth and between youth and facility staff. While the hearing was about assault, it is important to note that the BJS study covered victimization. There is a significant difference: the majority of the reported activity between juveniles and staff in the BJS report occurred between male inmates and female staff members. Any sexual activity involving staff is an abuse of power, of course, and could be statutory rape, but many of those incidents likely did not involve physical coercion by female staffers.

There are really no data about the extent of abuse of juveniles housed in adult facilities, but anecdotal evidence (such as this interview we did with a prisoner in New York) suggests that it is worse in adult facilities than it is in those for juveniles.

“More than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse,” according to the findings and recommendations of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), which were released in June 2009.  

At the subcommittee hearing, witnesses pushed for the Justice Department to finalize and implement the NPREC recommendations. Newport News (Va.) Sheriff Gabriel Morgan argued that only removal of juveniles from adult facilities will ensure the protection of those youths.

“Incarcerating juveniles in adult facilities is dangerous,” Morgan said flatly. Often, he testified, his staff has to segregate youth in isolation to protect them from sexual abuse, which is trading a safety problem for a mental health one in the case of some juveniles. 

***Another candidate we’ve heard is interested in the OJJDP administrator’s job is Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Hornberger lacks the kind of agency-leader background that some in the field believe is vital to a good administrator. But as head of the organization that represents advisory groups in each state, she is about as plugged in as possible to what’s going on around the country. She is also a driving force behind the Act-4-JJ Campaign, which is a group effort by myriad JJ advocates to push for reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which played a major role in shaping the version of that bill on the Senate side.

Two interesting things about a Hornberger nomination: First, mum has been the word from the Justice Department on reauthorization of JJDPA thus far. Nominating Hornberger would either be a tacit statement by OJJDP in support of the Senate bill, or would place her in the awkward position of having no comment about a bill she influenced. 

The other is funding for SAGs out of Title V of the existing JJDPA. In theory, that pot of money is north of $60 million, but usually Congress carves out most of it for projects including enforcement of underage drinking laws and tribal youth grants.

You have to think that getting meaningful dollars into the hands of SAGs would be one thing Hornberger would watch for if she got the job.

***OJJDP announced some 2010 funding solicitations this week:

National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART 3): The purpose is to use a variety of research methods to gain a comprehensive estimate of the nation’s missing children, which should include youth who were kidnapped, have run away, or have been kicked out of the home. There will be one grantee, who will receive $1 million for one year with the potential for continuation funding in 2011 and 2012 at the same level.

Two interesting goals specified for the grant: “developing a national estimate of missing children that is valid and reliable,” and “developing a national estimate of the number of missing children recovered each year.”

Deadline is April 28.

State Advisory Group Training and Technical Assistance Project: This is the first time in recent memory that TTA money to help state advisory groups got a public solicitation. This is part of the funding that once went to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, currently run by the aforementioned Hornberger.

In 2003, CJJ was not funded for this work or for other activities related to SAGs, and since then the contract for TTA has been held by Development Services Group, a company that holds a whole slew of youth related contracts with Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.

It will be interesting to see if CJJ puts in for the grant again. The guess here is it will, because any money is worth pursuing at the moment and the organization has a long history of training and assisting the SAGs. But challenging and criticizing OJJDP is harder to do when you’re inside the fray financially, and that has become part of CJJ’s repertoire in the seven years since they lost federal funding.

Whoever gets the grant, it will be for $500,000 per year, renewable up to three years. Deadline is April 29.